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STUDY: White Stuff embraces multichannel IT

By Retail Technology | Friday May 10 2013

UK cothing retailer positions business for future expansion both instore and online by overhauling its IT infrastructure and implementing a new multichannel solution

In 2010, after a period of rapid extension, fashion and accessories retailer White Stuff acknowledged that a new system was needed to take the company forward across multiple channels.

Having been initially employed via the Change Management Group to manage the selection and deployment of the new system, Ian McMillan, who was subsequently brought in-house at White Stuff to head up the group’s IT function explained the situation.

McMillan said: “Although robust, the old system had shortcomings and, for multichannel, it was difficult to use. We had a separate website and separate warehouses for home shopping and for the stores. The communications network with the tills was expensive.”

Essential multichannel capabilities
The decision to select K3 Retail as the new multichannel system provider had been taken before McMillan's involvement. But he reported that the multichannel capabilities - combining the Microsoft Dynamics NAV platform with the additional multichannel functionality developed by K3 - had been the basis of the decision.
It provided White Stuff with a solution that covered all its various elements, comprising shops (including a store in Copenhagen); wholesale (including various overseas customers); and its call centre.

As the new system would touch all parts of the business, McMillan said the business took a modular approach “as much as was possible” to the roll out.

This initially worked well, with the K3 finance module replacing the old Sage system in October 2010, in what he describes as “straightforward and pain-free” process. Likewise, the electronic point-of-sale (EPoS) implementation went smoothly – although the roll-out plan was later recognised as too aggressive, taking two months longer to complete than originally planned.
“It was a complete replacement of hardware and software in the stores, which was a big deal. We also added in new Verifone credit card acceptance devices [from Commidea]. And it took a bit longer than planned, with completion in April 2011,” McMillan said.
Overhauling supply chain processes

The company then looked to replace its whole enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in June 2011. This included the warehouse, call centre, buying and merchandising, and all other central functions, as well as the interfaces into the company’s website. “You want to be as modular as possible but this requires writing interfaces linking into old code, which are then thrown away. It’s therefore a big jump at the end,” explained McMillan.
One area that was hit with particularly big change was the warehouse: “The practices changed and we needed to keep on top of this – especially as we were bringing it into the multichannel world. It’s not just [IT] system changes, but structural and reference point changes,” he recalled.
With the project fully implemented, McMillan said White Stuff traded through the vital Christmas period of 2012 with the capability to “significantly better manage its stock and assets” compared with last year. This ultimately delivered a better performance than that achieved in 2011.
“We’ve been able to manage the company as a multichannel business, including managing the warehouse processes better, which has helped with online and store ordering," he added. "We’ve had the right amount of stock available and have got it into the stores in a more timely way, which has helped reduce the cost of markdowns."

Timely and accurate data

The more accurate and timely data now available within the business is also being utilised through better business analytics, which is being used throughout the organisation to improve operational performance.
Using the K3 Business Intelligence (BI) module the company runs various daily reports across the business including finance and merchandising as well as ad-hoc analysis, which McMillan said is much easier to undertake than on the old system: “We’re using these reports to measure the benefits of click & collect, for instance.”
He concluded: “The system is helping to drive the business forward as a multichannel operation in an integrated way. It is allowing us to think more freely. It’s providing an opportunity for us."

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